Kurdish Top Model Zarya Azadi, taking the Fashion Industry by Storm

Zarya Azadi is an entrepreneur, model, and activist. She is the only working Kurdish Top Model walking runway show worldwide. Writing history for being the first of her kind published in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire to name a few. With a height of 6ft, she is currently the tallest Kurdish model on the runway.

Zarya studied Management at Oxford Brookes University and decided to use fashion as a platform to raise awareness on social causes as she too belongs to an ethnic minority group, the Ezidis who was genocide by ISIS in 2014.

After several years of social media, Zarya decided to return and started her own projects also highlighting racism and exploitation in the industry. Zarya attended Jimmy Choo’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Fashion Week in Paris and got inspired. She is an ambassador for NGO Mundo Cooperate and Co-founder of Girlup Kurdistan, a United Nations Foundation Initiative.

In 2020 she launched her campaign, “Evolve Your Heritage” and published her editorial shoot “Red Ribbon” in various magazines. One of Zarya’s passions is representing Kurdish art and culture within the fashion and creating “The Hidden Beauty of Kurdistan” working with Kurdish designers.

This year she showcased her own collection in collaboration with Carat23 during London Fashion Week. Zarya Azadi is a well-established ambassador and cooperates partners with the Spanish NGO Mundo Cooperate. For years, she has immensely contributed to fighting against female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, and forced marriage. Zarya’s initiative to eradicate fights against domestic violence and gender equality issues is reflected in her work through fashion walk in Milan, London, Paris, NY, LA, and Berlin.

She recently launched a new campaign, “Evolve Your Heritage,” to shed old traditions and customs that hinder the development of women and young girls. Apart from being a driven philanthropist, she is also a thriving co-founder of Girl Up Kurdistan, a women-driven business, that empowers women to be independent and provide for their families.

Her dedication and resilience have earned her a worldwide reputation that continues to make strides in her field. Currently, she is promoting the AZADI clothing line by Brusk Label in cooperation with the orphanage, Our Bridge e.V. in Khanke in Kurdistan. Part of the sales will be donated to the Ezidi orphans who lost their parents during the genocide by ISIS in 2014. www.zaryaazadi.com 

You are the only working Kurdish Top Model walking runway show worldwide. Tell us about your experience.

I have been doing modeling since I was a teenager. Over the years when attending international shows I have not once met another Kurdish model, male or female, walking the catwalk with me. I have worked with creative people from all around the world and it was and still is a great experience learning about different cultures and ethnicities. I have made some really good friendships over the years with people from the fashion industry. Most of them never heard much about my heritage and this was a reason for me to use the fashion industry to highlight my art and culture. 

You have been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire. What does this mean to you?

Being featured in these big magazines makes me proud of myself. I have worked with a great team in Paris during Paris Fashion Week this year and I am grateful for the opportunity. This allows me to speak about the lack of representation of Kurdish creatives in the fashion industry or at least to be identified as such. Me being featured in all these magazines was history-making and it shows the hard work that I have put in over the years. 

Where do you see your career in 2022? 

This year has already been a great start for me. I attended the fashion shows in London, Paris, Rotterdam, and Berlin and met some great new people talking about new ideas for the future. I worked with different photographers in each city for different photo shoots. I cannot wait to publish all my images soon. Me being featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, etc. was a great start for 2022 already. Of course, I would like to be featured in more magazines and preferably on the covers of the mentioned above. Who does not like to be covered in Vogue magazine (laughs)? 

The main reason for me to be able to achieve all that is to show representation and to raise awareness. I have been asked about doing acting roles in the past. I have never done anything in that field, but I would consider this if the opportunity would arise. 

What designers impress you the most?

There are so many beautiful and talented designers worldwide that it would be difficult to just name a few. I have worked with a lot of emerging designers over the years as well and the level of quality of their work is just impressive. This too is underrepresented in my opinion. I love to work with designers that use their creative work to highlight their culture. I do believe in the work of designers when using other cultures to highlight the beauty of that culture, this is called cultural appreciation, however, I do not support the cultural appropriation of some other designers. Be original but also respectful about the sources from which you get inspired. 

 What inspired you to do your own fashion collection to showcase during London Fashion Week at Fashion Finest in Feb 2022? 

Since I was preparing for a Kurdish Fashion Show in 2021, I got to work with a lot of talented Kurdish fashion designers. I had already created my own collection “Red Ribbon” to showcase equality for women and got more inspired to create a different collection to combine traditional Kurdish fabrics and patterns with modern style. I chose Kurdish colors, patterns, and style so it would look modern and new on the catwalk. I used a Kurdish headpiece for my showstopper dress that got the audience interested in my heritage. I also collaborated with the Dutch handbag designer Carat23 and added the newest styles of ‘the diamond, the rock, and the baguette’ handbags to my collection. Please have a look for yourself (smiles). 

Fashion Finest Link: https://www.fashionsfinest.com/gallery/item/6371-carat23-zarya-azadi-feb-2022 

Carat23 Link: https://www.carat23.com 

Zarya Azadi Link: https://www.zaryaazadi.com 

You are an activist against domestic violence and gender

equality issues. Tell us about your work. 

During the pandemic, gender equality issues against women were rising around the world. It was very unfortunate that the lockdowns started in March 2020 just after I had launched my campaign “Evolve Your Heritage” in February 2020 during London Fashion Week. I was using my creative work to raise awareness of these social causes in cooperation with the Spanish NGO Mundo Cooperate. 

Who would you like to work with in 2022? 

I would like to work with a lot of brands in the industry. If it had to narrow it down to the top five it would be brands like L’Oreal, Chanel, Burberry, Victoria’s Secret, and Cartier. I would love to get the opportunity to show some representation within the bigger fashion market as representation matters. 

Instagram: @zaryaazadi

Website:www.zaryaazadi.com

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Jules Lavallee is an International Journalist from Los Angeles, CA. For the past eight years, she has covered celebrities, global leaders, royalty, entrepreneurs for over 20+ magazines and countless cover stories. Staying true to roots in Boston, MA, Jules is a true humanitarian. She has supported many nonprofits in fundraising, strategic partnerships, and media. She has served on the Board of Big Brothers & Big Sisters and is currently on the Board of Fund Duel, gamified fundraising platform. She is an influential person in the areas of gender equality, diversity, and empowerment. She is a graduate of Harvard University.
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